One of the guys: Sailors learn from female goalie

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— Coach Dave Strang believes his high school hockey boys could learn a thing or two about playing with junior Jessie Smith.

"I think the big thing they gain from having Jess on the ice is watching her compete," Strang said. "She competes with these guys every time she takes the ice."

Smith is the backup goalie for the Sailors and initially did not make the team after a series of tryouts. When a spot opened up, however, Smith gladly took it.

She wanted to improve her speed and quickness, making her a more attractive candidate for a collegiate roster.

High school guys, in most cases, are simply stronger and quicker than girls of the same age. The competition Smith faces every day in practice is comparable to what she will likely see once she enters college, Strang said.

Smith's eye is on St. Olaf, a Division III school in Minnesota.

On Jan. 20, Smith recorded her first win in goal for Steamboat, turning away 14-of-15 shots, as the Sailors defeated Wasson 10-1.

"It was fun," Smith said. "It was a great game."

Strang said he was proud of her effort and would love to get her in net for more games in the future.

"She looked really good against Wasson," starting goalie Cooper Lee said. "She was square to the puck. The thing she needs to work on is mental, not getting too down if she gives up a goal."

Smith nods her head. It is a problem. Most of the action she sees comes behind the scenes in practice. It's during these times her competitive drive is exposed, particularly when she gives up a score -- even to a teammate.

"I know, it is just practice," she said. "It's in my nature. Every practice is like proving myself."

Strang said he knew of Smith's desire to play with the Sailors at the beginning of the season, and he was all for it. She had previously practiced with the same group of guys last year when they were on a local club team.

"Jessie's talented," Strang said.

Initially, Smith was unsure as to how the boys would receive her and how they would respond to her as a teammate, despite the fact they knew her.

"But it's been great," Smith said.

Strang said the Jan. 20 game serves as a perfect example of how his team has accepted Smith, not as a female goalie, but as one of its goalies.

The attack put together 10 goals, while the defense, including Smith, surrendered just one.

"They guys played hard in front of her and for her," Strang said.

Perhaps the best indicator, however, that Smith is just another Steamboat hockey player is what happens off the ice.

The locker room conversations are pretty good, Smith said. The guys show little inhibition in speaking with her around, and while she sometimes changes in another room, sometimes she changes right inside with the guys.

"They put their heads down," she said with a grin.

Eventually, however, Smith will go back to playing strictly with females.

State evaluations are coming up. Coaches from USA Hockey will be on hand to judge players, and if one should be so lucky to be picked out to advance to further tests, he or she could land on the U-19 development squad, but Smith said no player from this area has been selected for that team.

Even if she's not selected and eliminated early by USA Hockey, Smith has proved herself to at least one hockey guy.

"She's a good goalie," Lee said. "She's going somewhere."

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